Rational Perspectives

May 23, 2011

The third term bribery allegation

Echoes of the unsuccessful bid to foist former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the nation for a third consecutive term in office continues to reverberate five years after the event.

Although there were speculations that the intentions of the promoters of constitutional amendment for this purpose were not truly altruistic, Nigerians gave the legislators the benefit of the doubt especially as the chief beneficiary of third term agenda was no less than the “apparent” anti-corruption President, who had established what appeared to be a full-toothed bulldog called EFCC (Economic & Financial Crimes Commission).

Even when our sensibilities were assaulted with TV reports of naira laden ‘Ghana-must-go’ bags on the floor of the National Assembly, NASS, as evidence of financial motivation to support the third term agenda, Nigerians took the failure of EFCC to bark (let alone bite) as an indication that the ‘naira show’ was a contrived event by an ‘unfriendly’ opposition to discredit the President, or score a political point.

However, reminiscent of the Volkswagen advert of the beetle car that refuses to die in spite of its age and all other odds, the ugly rump of ‘third term’ refuses to be permanently buried out of sight! The Punch newspaper of Wednesday, 11th May 2011 carried a report titled “Third Term: Obasanjo Offered Senators, Reps N50m Each – Dabiri Erewa, ACN Secretary”

The Punch reported that at a recent interactive session with ACN National Assembly members-elect, in Abuja, Abike Dabiri, a two-term member of the House of Reps and a current Rep-elect for another four year term, and Lawal Shuaibu, a Senator and Secretary of Action Congress of Nigeria “confessed that the administration of Ex President Olusegun Obasanjo offered a N50m bribe each to members of NASS to secure third term in office for the former President”

Thus, the consolidated slush fund for 109 Senators and 360 Representatives must have approached N23.45bn. In what may be described as our own version of ‘Wikki Leaks’ Abike sang some more, hear her: “I was actually tempted when the third term money came. This is because for the first time in my life, I saw huge sum of money in brief cases or boxes. But ‘we’ stood our ground and that was why the agenda was killed”! Shuaibu also chorused in unison that “Obasanjo brought N50m to each of us for the third term, but we refused.”

I am aware, even as a layman, that he who gives bribes is as guilty as the taker of bribes! In this wise, Both Abike and Shuaibu may escape blame as they refused to accept dirty money, but pray, what about the giver?

The confessions are quite unambiguous; money was brought to them in various modes of packaging, the money did not fly through windows into their respective rooms. Abike, herself, confessed she had never seen so much money put together in her life and admitted she was almost tempted to take the money! So, we have a motive for the bribe, i.e. third term for Obasanjo; we also have evidence of the nature of bribe as reported by the two law makers, who have confessed that they were objects of the bribe; the only missing link is the identity of those who brought the bribe! Fortunately, Abike and Shuaibu did not claim ghosts as the bribe carriers; so, the identities of the couriers must be well known to the ‘redeemed’, whistle blowers!

Meanwhile, we recognize that ultimate beneficiary of the third term project was the former President, who has denied any involvement with the third term agenda! So, the questions are, if Obasanjo was not the sponsor of third term, then who was the faceless financier and what did he stand to gain? Furthermore, the sum of N23.45bn is no chicken feed, so, what is stock in trade of the faceless financier and how did he accumulate or obtain access to such huge funds, and how much does he pay as tax?

Well, even if sources of funds remain unknown, the messengers, who are definitely known to Abike and Shuaibu, must have a principal; so by tugging at the undergrowth, we can bring down the trees in the forest! This is the basic modus operandi in the investigative process of agencies such as EFCC.

We must remember that we are not talking here about the evidence of witnesses without integrity; both confessors are respectable and responsible members of NASS. If anti-crime/fraud agencies cannot rely on the unforced confessions of such eminent Nigerians, then I do not know whose evidence can be actionable. So, if Farida Waziri, who has performed creditably with very limited resources as EFCC Chairman wishes to leave a legacy of courage and non-partisanship as a true lover of Nigeria in the fight against corruption, the charming lady would have no option but to open a case file for these allegations and investigate them to logical conclusion; failure to successfully bring appropriate closure to this case will cast a dark shadow on her otherwise commendable achievements!

Imagine, for example, if CNN (the International news broadcasters) reported that senior members of the US Legislature have openly admitted to bribe offers of about $400,000 each, say, from outgoing President Bush for the lawmakers to amend the constitution so that he could have an extra term in office! The FBI would, of course, lose credibility if it failed to immediately investigate such serious allegations (of a constitutional coup de tat) and bring perpetrators to book! We are current witnesses to the fall of Dominic Straus-Khan, the now former IMF boss and erstwhile potentially next French President, as a result of the allegations of a lowly African chambermaid at a luxury hotel in downtown Manhattan! Both Abike Erewa and Shuaibu have denied taking the money offered and indeed, in the unlikely event that all other lawmakers also rejected the money, the slate will still not be cleaned out so long as it is incontestable that the bribes were offered in the first place! EFCC’s only noble exit strategy in this matter is to ensure that justice is done so that the public perception of the agency as being selective in its choice of investigation and prosecution of crime will be dispelled! EFCC has often decried lack of public support in the provision of information and materials to support its work; in truth, it could not ask for better credible leads than what has freely been provided by Abike and Shuaibu.

In fact, I get the impression that both lawmakers are fully conscious of the implications of their confessions; it is really an open challenge to test the credibility of EFCC to determine whether or not Nigerians can repose confidence in the agency in its fight against corruption. Abike and Shuaibu should therefore be commended for their courage, the ball is now in Farida’s court!

Some Nigerians have celebrated the fact that over two-thirds of the current membership of NASS would not return in the hope that the majority of the fresh NASS-elect would come into the hallowed chambers with cleaner hands! In spite of billions of naira expended in maintaining the extravagant and flamboyant lifestyles of legislators, Nigerians are disappointed that in the last four years, NASS only succeeded in passing just about 12 bills! It has become increasingly glaring that the actual job of lawmaking has since been subdued in preference to pursuit of self-enrichment through myriad sources, from bloated salaries and allowances to special allocations for constituency allowances and self-interest based oversight functions over MDAs.

Even in the twilight of the 2007 – 2011 NASS class, there are media reports that members have demanded N1.5bn ($10m) before they ‘thumbprint’ the Petroleum Industry bill. They have apparently also, according to a report titled

“Legislators demand N2.5bn bribe to pass PIB, SWFB” (Punch edition of 10/5/2011 pg 19) shown reluctance to pass the ‘Sovereign Wealth Fund bill”, until they receive N1bn bribe.

There are issues other than bribery and corruption, which resonate from the above. For example, from whom do Assembly members expect the $10m? Certainly, not from NGOs or an amorphous Coalition of Nigerian People. The Punch report indicated that money is expected to be raised by stakeholders in the Petroleum Industry; well, if disclosures from Wikki Leaks, with regard to unscrupulous manipulations of the Executive and Legislature by foreign stakeholders in the Nigerian Petroleum Industry are anything to go by, then we may conclude that the oil majors are the main targets for the expected bribe! The question, then arises as to why the foreign stakeholders should be targeted to pay a $10m bribe for a bill that would reduce their stranglehold on the industry.

The truth, of course, is that foreign majors will only be induced to pay a bribe, as they have traditionally done, particularly in third-world countries such as Nigeria, if the PIB in reality constitutionally serves and guarantees established avenues for milking the industry at the expense of the Nigerian people! In this event, it would not be out of place if independent and seasoned Nigerian technocrats from the diaspora, including legal luminaries and engineers are assembled, to take a dispassionate look at PIB before we commit our oil and gas resources to foreign oil majors; how well, for example, does the PIB fare against similar legislation that transformed the oil industry in Venezuela with commendable local involvement for the benefit of the people?

However, the potential sponsors of the N1bn bribe demanded to pass the sovereign wealth fund bill may be more difficult to unmask. The Governors forum, as we know, do not support this bill, indeed, they had serially opposed the illegal excess crude account, which was unconstitutionally created by former President Obasanjo to serve the same purpose. Alternately, the Executive arm of government remotely goaded by the IMF, largely favoured a sovereign wealth fund.

Discerning critics have wondered about the wisdom of saving billions of dollars with little yield for a rainy day, while we are concurrently encouraged to borrow billions more from abroad to patch our leaking roofs and pay our children’s school fees or save our families from starvation? Meanwhile, those funds we are encouraged to borrow at higher costs may have been sourced indirectly from our own sovereign wealth savings with minimal yield!! Besides, the touted sovereign savings may be grossly depleted by depreciation in the purchasing power of the dollar, the currency in which these savings are mainly denominated.

Nigeria urgently needs a focused and impartial EFCC and a class of legislators, who genuinely want to serve than be served by their countrymen, whom they oppress and impoverish for their self aggrandizement.